I don’t remember the entire dream, only fragments of it. Certain feelings and certain images float back.
(I’d like to know how this works; remembering your dreams. When I am in the dream, I follow a certain causality on which the ‘I’ seem to have no control. When I wake up that causality is no longer effective, and I’m left with some fragments in an entirely implausible sequence. The fragments stick with me, and the causality disappears. I had read somewhere that dreams move in certain trajectories in which your thoughts are moving generally – things you feel at a subterranean level but are yet to come to terms within the realm of rationality – yet they take on random images and fragments from your memory stores which might have nothing to do with the issue at hand. That is why they seem so improbable once you wake up, so hard to remember sequentially because the sequence and images do not correspond.)
The dream I’m going to talk about is an escape dream. In this, I escape from a friend. Or someone I used to call friend. She looks just like the Instagram photo of her I have seen a few whiles back. Her face caked with make-up, hair straightened to unearthly smoothness, eyes almost black from all the products used around it. This is how she looks now, and this is a face I have no real memory of. The face I remember is younger, a little fuller, tired perhaps, prematurely. The face I remember is one that I have often seen screwed up in judgment, towards me, towards the world. I feared that face, I still fear it. The new face, the one I have no memory of, seems a bit shorn of that power, which has been replaced by something looking a little bit like sadness.
I don’t know how it started, but I remember the breaking of my resolve and the flow of abuse that starts to come out of my mouth, which is so uncharacteristic of me. There was some altercation I dimly remember, her voice so easily sardonic, so effortlessly hurtful, she is reducing me again to some stereotype or other… and in dream I respond in a way I have never even considered in my waking life.
She stands before me, smiling, fixed in a yellow haze as I rage and howl at her. I am feeling utterly worthless now, trapped by my own spontaneous outburst which has no effect whatsoever on the image before me. She smiles like a doll which has been winded to perfection. It feels so unjustified that she would hurt me so and yet remain unhurt herself. So I slap her hard, struggling against the strange heaviness that always seems to engulf me in dreams.
(I’m not sure if this happens with everyone but I have always experienced a crushing sense of heaviness whenever something urgent happens in my dreams. When I need to climb a flight of stairs, when I need to finish writing a copy, when I need to put on clothes because I am naked in a sea of burkha-clad people, when I need to run run run. My limbs move mind-numbingly slow, my arms and legs feel like they are made of cement. I cannot break free of hands clutching at my wrist, I cannot slap or punch when I need to do so.)
She is unperturbed. She is still smiling that strange non-smile, and I am suddenly afraid. I start to run. I am in my faded polyester nighty and it’s sticking unhelpfully to my thighs. I am sweating. My feet are heavy. From the corner of my eye, I can see shadowy figures following in my wake. I don’t know who they are.
(I don’t remember what happened next in the dream. Something happened, but my waking mind is unable to fetch the details. Not even fragments remain, only the vague sense of unease that something happened here which I don’t remember anymore.)
The next thing I remember, I am on a train. It’s not a passenger coach but a goods carriage; dark, dingy and filthy. I know in my dream that I have run through the length of the train and now stand panting in the last compartment. There’s no more length to run. They are coming, I know. I can almost hear the footsteps. I run, they walk, and yet they are always just shy of my shoulder. Leonard Cohen stands before me, old and calm in a dark suit and a hat. A lone ray falls through a crack in the only window in the carriage. ‘There’s no escape child, you gotta jump.”
I don’t know where to jump. There’s no door. The window has disappeared. Leonard bends down and makes a sweeping gesture at the floor of the train. It opens up like a trap door. Underneath is water, muddy and turbulent. I jump with my heart in mouth and I’m immediately engulfed in water.
The rail tracks run on water, with nothing to support them. The train passes over my head and I’m pushed by the resulting wave to the other side of what seems like a wide canal and encounter another train rushing past my ears. I bob upon the water and see giant hoards of water hyacinths passing me by, violet flowers blinking among green foliage. I look up above the water surface to see several other rail tracks crisscrossing the breadth of the canal like a gigantic puzzle. The water is the colour of a devastating flood. It pulls me with its insistent current and I swim along, fighting not so much against the water but the same heaviness that pervades my dreams.
I know not when I reached the shore. But now I am in a city, and I know not how I ended up here.
I board a rickshaw and glide through meandering alleyways of sleepy neighbourhoods with lime-caked walls, dark cobwebbed tea stalls made of bamboo and tarpaulin, and small green squares of grass which are empty now but I know will be echoing with children’s laughter a short while later. It feels of childhood, of coming back from school through the meandering lanes that lead to my childhood home. The magic hour strikes as the rickshaw come out in the main road, bustling with people and shops and honking cars. And I know this is Dhaka, the city where my grandfather was born, though I have never been there. The pink and purple of twilight flood the street as one by one the lamps lit up. I pass a house with a marble plaque which says something I don’t remember anymore.
(It all feels so overwhelmingly like childhood that I weep. I seem to have crossed a number of borders as I floated in the floodwater of my dream. Some with military check posts, others with more enduring obstacles like time and guilt and pain.)
And yet my pursuers are persistent. I’m aware of them even before I board the rickshaw, and I’m aware of them throughout the journey. I abandon the rickshaw at last and decide to go back; past the border I had crossed to escape here, past the water that failed to carry me to a safe place.
I am on the deck of a steamer which I don’t remember boarding when I see them. Three women, very unremarkable in appearance, standing side by side on the ferry with no apparent purpose. They are mothers all, I know from their campy cardigans and roomy waistlines and carelessly wrapped shawls, their faces an identical dull grey that comes from sweat accumulated over years. The ferry is made of colourful triangles and spheres and cones that look like gigantic toy building blocks. The moon is shining overhead, and the steamer is speeding towards the ferry so swift and so smooth that I instinctively know that jumping is not an option now. It’s too late; they are already waiting for me there on the other side. I know I’ll be punished at their hands, and severely, but I don’t remember why. I stand resigned as fear shoots up my belly and fills my throat with bile and a searing pain spreads through my forehead.
(I can feel the morning light coming through the curtains on my closed eyelids. I feel the onset of wakefulness behind them. I desperately try to make sense of my imminent punishment but there’s no reason to be found in the dark water underneath or the stoic faces of the mothers before.)
Her face flashes past one last time before the steamer fits like a jigsaw-puzzle piece into the bright red and yellow dock and I open my eyes. A plastic face, one that I have no memory of.
The accompanying photograph is by Jayadyuti De.